Zach W from Blogging Blue, friend of the Sconz amidst the unforgiving world which is the Wisconsin blogosphere, will be featured today in a mini-special on corrections reform in the Badger State. Although I disagree with Zach deeply on this issue, he knows a lot about corrections so I thought it’d be useful to give him some space. Here goes:
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the provision contained within the most recent state budget, otherwise known as 2009 Wisconsin Act 28, that would make all but the most violent offenders and sex offenders potentially eligible for early release. At the time, I voiced my support for the measure, and I cited data from other states that seemed to support the contention that strong reentry programs, combined with a concerted effort to reduce prison sentences, seemed to be having a positive impact when it comes to reducing recidivism rates.
While I still believe in the merits of reducing sentences for some crimes while focusing on efforts to provide more support for individuals reentering the community after spending time in prison, I’ve come to the realization WI Act 28 may end up doing more harm than good when it comes to keeping communities safe. At the time I wrote my earlier entry, I was operating under the assumption the very worst of the Wisconsin prison system, including sex offenders and violent offenders, would be ineligible for early release from prison and early discharge from extended supervision (parole). However, having had the opportunity to have the practical application of WI Act 28 explained to me, it’s been made abundantly clear to me that the early release provisions of WI Act 28 were poorly thought out and seem to have no rhyme or reason.
Here’s a perfect example: under the new early release provisions, an individual convicted of aggravated battery to an unborn child is statutorily eligible to earn early release from prison as well as an early discharge from extended supervision once released from prison, while an individual convicted of a nonviolent offense such as misconduct in public office is not eligible for early release from prison or an early discharge from extended supervision. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not arguing misconduct in public office – or any other felony, for that matter – aren’t serious offenses, but they’re certainly not as seriously assaultive as a crime like aggravated battery to an unborn child.
In fact, a quick look at the list of offenses that will be eligible for early release from prison and early discharge from extended supervision shows a good number of violent offenses, including:
Class F Felonies
- Second degree reckless injury
- First-degree recklessly endangering safety
- Assault by prisoners
- Causing great bodily harm by tampering with household products
Class G Felonies
- Homicide by negligent handling of dangerous weapon, explosives, or fire
- Homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle
- Abuse of vulnerable adults
- Felony intimidation of a victim
- Felony intimidation of a witness
- Second-degree recklessly endangering safety
- Endangering safety (by discharging firearm into a vehicle or building or setting a spring gun)
- Physical abuse of a child (recklessly causing great bodily harm)
Class H Felonies
- Aggravated battery to an unborn child [statute 940.195(4)]
- Aggravated battery [statute 940.19(4)]
- Battery by prisoners
- Battery to jurors
- Battery to probation and parole agents and aftercare agents
- Battery or threat to witnesses
- False imprisonment
- Physical abuse of a child (intentionally causing bodily harm)
Keep in mind the lists compiled above are in no way inclusive of every offense that will be eligible for early prison release or early discharge from extended supervision; there are scores more crimes that I didn’t list, in the interest of keeping this from becoming too lengthy. However, that list includes some pretty violent offenses, and it seems to me individuals who commit the types of violent offenses I’ve listed are precisely the individuals who need to be held fully accountable for their actions, instead of being granted early release simply to save money and clear some bed space in the Wisconsin State Prison system.
Unless the provisions of Wisconsin Act 28 are coupled with a renewed effort to provide adequate post-release services for offenders – services such as alcohol & drug treatment, domestic violence treatment, mental health counseling, housing, and employment – offenders released under the provisions of Wisconsin Act 28 will only end up caught in a revolving door of incarceration while endangering communities across Wisconsin in the process.